Green groups opposed the project, arguing that the rail line violated protected forest preserve land. But as Brian Mann reports, they now say their fight to block the project is over.
At first glance, the railroad to the Tahawus mine works in the eastern Adirondacks seems like a throwback to an age where these mountains were heavily industrialized. The tracks were built hastily during the 1940s to provide raw materials for the war effort. However, Ed Ellis, head of Iowa Pacific Holding, says that there are plenty of marketable rock and tailings left to be hauled out.
“There’s two kinds of rock. There’s the tailings, which have a high iron content, and there’s clean limestone rock that had to be removed to get to the titanium when they were mining it. There’s about 100 million tons up there,” said Ellis. “I would say that there’s enough rock up there to go for a long, long time.”
The federal service transportation board ruled on Friday of last week that Iowa Pacific can begin hauling cargos in the line without further review, but the line has been abandoned for about 30 years. This means that the company will have a lot of work to do before they can effectively use it. Ellis said, “We’ll be spending a lot of money getting the line open. You know, just cutting the brush is a six-figure exercise.”
Three different environmental groups initially opposed this project. Protect the Adirondacks, The Sierra Club and The Atlantic States’ Legal Foundation all filed briefs urging the federal government to require a more detailed review before the railroad is revived. Their complaint, says Charles Morrison who is active with two of the groups, is that the train was built over state forest preserve land in the 1940s. This was a violation of environmental protections built into the state’s constitution.
“Back in the 1940s, when this first started, and the federal government took the easements on the forest reserve, this was a major violation of the state constitution, Article 14, and the state went all the way up to the Supreme Court twice and appealed to have the forest reserve restored. So that’s still what it’s all about basically,” said Morrison.
This spring, the department of environmental conservation also raised concerns about reviving the line. However, the DEC later withdrew their concerns. This project has drawn strong support from the Cuomo administration and from North Country Congressman Bill Owens.
Morrison acknowledged that Friday’s decision by the service transportation board represented a clear defeat for environmental groups. He said, “I guess it’s over and we’ll have to see what happens next. But meanwhile, you have the forest reserve subject now to federal jurisdiction in effect and that’s a major change “
Iowa Pacific already operates the tourist and ski train between Saratoga Springs and North Creek. In recent years, the fate of these old rail lines in the Adirondacks has become a major source of debate, with some groups arguing that the beds should be used as recreational trails. Supporters of the rail line have argued that passenger and cargo trains are an important part of the region’s history and could help revitalize the economy on the future.